Andrew Chambers tackles young people’s binge drinking through a new resource.

Making positive choices in life is easier said than done, especially for young people in a city like Liverpool, where binge drinking on the streets is evident every Saturday night. How can teachers assist young people in preparing for the challenges they will face in a world where excessive alcohol use is widely accepted as a normal part of a teenager’s rite of passage towards adulthood?

It is not always easy to find ways to deal with the subject of binge drinking or the issues that are inextricably linked to it. However, I have recently been lucky enough to be involved with the development of Life is About Choices. This education resource pack aims to encourage young people to think about some of the difficulties they will face if they drink alcohol irresponsibly. The strong regional identity of the intervention scheme is suitable for development by teaching colleagues and local authorities in their own areas around the country.

Positive alcohol choices

My school, Shorefields Technology College, is located in Toxteth, Liverpool. It faces many of the same issues that other inner city schools tackle on a daily basis. Shorefields was invited to explore the Life is About Choices alcohol resource pack which was supported by the Ariel Trust (www.arieltrust.com). This independent charity uses the broadcasting industries to improve the lives of young people. It contributes to Liverpool’s Capital of Culture 2008 initiative.

The production process included listening to staff in a series of focus groups and as a result the initiative does not make new demands on teachers. It has been carefully designed to fit into the National Curriculum and supports the work that PSHCE teachers are already engaged in.

Life is About Choices is now being used by more than a thousand Liverpool teenagers after its initial launch in April 2006. The pack contains a DVD called Plastered which features a group of young local actors. This is the first film project of the It’s Not OK! initiative and tells the hard-hitting story of a hedonistic night of binge drinking, as well as the violent consequences of a series of alcohol-fuelled decisions.

Alongside Plastered is a flexible learning programme that enables teachers to present these issues in the classroom. The pack’s writer, Paul Ainsworth, said: ‘It’s about equipping young people with skills they need as they grow up in a world where alcohol is a part of everyday life. How do young people make positive choices about alcohol? If one young person can choose an orange juice instead of a vodka before they feel sick, then we’ve succeeded. Or if one young woman has the skills to deal with a boyfriend who is trying to ply her with drink then we will have achieved something worthwhile.’

The pack is specifically designed to discourage anti-social behaviour in Liverpool, but can also be used for comparison and discussion purposes in other areas. A Shorefields Year 9 student commented that: Liverpool as Capital of Culture is not just about a big party that takes place in 2008. It’s also about us working on bad parts of that culture and trying to make some positive changes’. In other local schools, colleagues and students agree that the pack is relevant and reflects honestly what young people often experience.

Scriptwriting competition

To further encourage thoughts on the subject, a scriptwriting competition is included in the pack. The aim is to see five thousand school children using the resource and entering scripts for a new radio drama called Positive Choices. The winners will fine-tune their entries with writer Maurice Bessman, who has worked on scripts for Hollyoaks, Holby and Casualty, and many other stage and radio plays.

The competition will enable young people to share thoughts and feelings that they may otherwise be nervous about discussing in the classroom. It will also allow them to be creative and explore other ways of communicating with their peers about related issues that affect them. The deadline for entries is the end of December 2006 and the winning drama will be professionally produced and broadcast on local radio.

Amanda Shaw, head of life skills at St.Hilda’s High School, Liverpool, is using the pack with all Year 9 pupils. She said: ‘It does make teaching and learning about alcohol easier. There are a lot of media influences which make alcohol look glamorous. This project gives them the opportunity to think first. You can’t stop them from doing it, but you can educate them on the effects alcohol can have on themselves, as well as on other people.’

Another colleague, Marian Roberts, citizenship teacher at the Blue Coat School, said: ‘The DVD is a great stimulus and it brings focus to the lesson. I overheard one pupil saying that the film was very powerful. The pack lends itself to different directions – sex education, alcohol education and life choices. It stands by itself, but it also works with other things you do. And it’s also more engaging than using a textbook.’

It’s Not OK!

This violence awareness and prevention programme uses film, radio and stage productions. So far there are four strands:

  • Exploring Violence in Communication – a performance project for secondary schools
  • Plastered – a film about binge drinking
  • Radio adverts – broadcasts made by young offenders
  • Street Heat – a film about fire-related anti-social behaviour.

Further information

For more information on Life is About Choices and the Plastered DVD call Gaynor Wright, creative education manager, on 0151 233 4125.

Andrew Chambers is head of PSHE at Shorefields Technology College www.shorefields.com

First published in Learning for Life, October 2006

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